No to Dice Apps (in tournaments)

The subject of dice rolling apps turns up every now and again.

As always, don’t care what you do in casual games, at home or between friends at gaming clubs. For tournaments?

Oh no. Oh hell no.

“but it takes so long to roll dice…”

Yes, rolling dice is slower than using a dice app. If I had to guess, I’d say you could save a good 10-15 minutes off the total time for a typical Kings of War game if both players were using a dice app rather than rolling physical dice. A significant time saving but the vast majority of the game time is still spent measuring and thinking.

By the time you’ve entered the numbers you need to roll, added modifiers and re-rolls, it’s probably not as much time saved as some people might think, but there will still be a time saving. I’d suggest that the time saving, if we assumed that everyone used dice apps at a tournament and therefore the round times could be shortened by 15 minutes, would be enough to make 4 games in one day much more comfortable.

It might also close some of the time gap between horde armies, rolling buckets of dice, and elite armies with fewer dice rolls.

So some time saving benefits to be made. However, the drawbacks?

Trust

How do you trust that your opponent has a genuinely fair dice app?

I’m sure there are apps in online stores that have weighted dice rolls. There has to be. Or certainly one that you can download from somewhere online and install manually on your phone. One which will roll a 5+ 50% of the time. Or where you can set the value that you want to be weighted. Perhaps your army always hits on a 4+ so make the dice roll 4+ 80% of the time?

It’s just software. Any software developer could write a loaded dice app – and I remind you that we play a nerdy hobby with a large number of software developers active in it. How do you know that your opponent’s just having a hot dice game? I’ve certainly had hot dice games and had opponents play me with ridiculously hot dice.

How do you know that the app is genuinely fair?

“But what about real life loaded dice?”

People can have loaded dice in real life. Dice that are weighted so that a few dice in the set will fairly consistently roll 5’s and 6’s. At US Masters one year, someone was caught with custom dice where some of them had the same symbols on both the 1’s and 6’s, so any dice which supposedly rolled a 1 actually looked like a 6. It could happen.

Say your suspicions are aroused. Or, as happened at US Masters, you brush the game off as “they just had hot dice” but you later talk with some of their other opponents and find out that every one of them have walked away thinking the same. Suspicions are aroused that a player’s dice are weighted or otherwise unfair, and someone discusses their concerns with the TO.

As a TO, I would politely ask if I could inspect their dice. I would have a quick look at the dice to see if I could see any physical deformations or, as happened with the US Masters cheater, that any of the faces were incorrect. I would roll the dice a few times to see if they came up hot in my hand. I could feel the balance point of dice. Were there certain dice colours that were consistently rolling higher than others?

All kinds of things that I could physically check because the dice are a physical object. While it might be a bit nerve wracking or worrying to be on the receiving end of an accusation, it’s absolutely no problem for the TO to inspect my dice.

How would that work with a dice rolling app?

“You can use one of the following dice apps”

The most obvious first step to try and cut off dodgy dice apps would be for the TO to only allow specific dice rolling apps to be used. Ones that they’ve checked and vetted; probably a small list of apps so that players can install one if the others aren’t compatible with their device or something.

Fine, job done, right?

Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V works. Not quite as simple as that, but there’s little stopping a determine cheater with some software engineering knowledge to create a copy of an existing app and tweak the code.

Download one of the vetted dice rolling apps, decompile it, tweak the random() function to be not so random. Recompile, save to your phone. It looks and feels identical to the vetted software, it’s just going to roll 5’s and 6’s 50% of the time.

As long as you have basic programming knowledge, it’s pretty trivial. I don’t know how to write apps, I don’t know Java, but I do know Python and general programming language principles. I’m 100% confident that I could tweak an app if I wanted to, even without truly knowing the specific programming language it’s written in.

“Well the TO can just quickly test the app, can’t they?”

Leaving “handing your phone over to a stranger” to the next section because of reasons that will become apparent, no, a TO can’t just quickly test the app.

Let’s put myself in the head of someone who has some programming knowledge and wants to tweak a dice app in order to cheat at KoW. You know what one of my tweaks is going to be? I’m going to put a button somewhere which turns the weighted rolls on and off. Hidden in the options menu somewhere, replacing the functionality of an existing button, or perhaps just an invisible button that is 100% transparent but still there.

If a TO asks to see my phone, I’m going to quickly press that button to turn off the weighted dice rolls. The TO could roll 60,000 dice and gets an even spread with ~10,000 dice rolling a 1, ~10,000 rolling a 2 etc. As soon as they hand the phone back, I press the button and suddenly rolling 60,000 dice again will yield 20,000 5’s and 20,000 6’s.

I could even be smarter and only turn on the weighted dice rolls when I truly need them. Skilled hackers in online games won’t have their aimbots or wallhacks turned on 100% of the time, but at those clinch moments they’ll just tap a key to give them the edge in that key firefight. Every time I really need a combat to go my way, I suddenly roll a 10 and then an 11 on the nerve test. That sort of luck can happen with real dice too, so it’s not like it would be suspicious.

If someone is smart and they only weight the digital dice when they really need the dice to be in their favour, they may well go without arousing suspicion or an accusation.

And the difference is that if a TO tests physical dice, they don’t suddenly change their odds. If physical dice were loaded, they will still be loaded if a TO tests them. The cheater can’t “turn off” their physical weighted properties at will. If a dice app is loaded, it might not be so loaded when a TO tests it. It could be as simple as an invisible button press to switch between cheater and not so cheater mode.

Pic unrelated. I just felt there needed to be a picture here of a room full of beautiful people to break up the text.

“So just make sure the original software is installed”

To cut a long story short, because those who aren’t into computers so much won’t care about the details and those who do know computers will know where I’m going with this, there’s only one way to make sure for absolute certainty that the dice app is the genuine original software.

Connect the accused person’s phone to a laptop, take a complete copy of every single file and folder on the phone, decrypt any encrypted files and run checksums, including on the original OS.

Put aside the sheer technical difficulty of doing this (I know it would need to be done, but even I don’t know how I would go about it), that is a massive invasion of privacy.

While testing physical dice in the event of an accusation is not 100% fool-proof, testing an application to the extent that the test is not immediately circumvented requires taking copies of all your personal data including files containing passwords, chatlogs and things like photos.

As I’m sure many people will be glad to hear, I don’t have any nudes on my phone, but no way in hell am I giving a random person full access to all of my personal information, banking information and passwords. I would rather hold my head up high and walk out than do that, and I know I wouldn’t be the only one.

I have to stress to anyone who doesn’t know computers and thinks I’m overreacting – it is trivial to modify an existing app and anyone who’s skilled enough to do that is skilled enough to hide it from all but the most intrusive invasion of personal privacy. You cannot trust that a dice app is genuine, and you cannot verify that a dice app is genuine without a massive invasion of privacy.

Well, except in these circumstances…

We’ve had queries to Northern Kings in the past asking about dice apps in general (which the answer is HELL NO), but more specifically for people with some sort of accessibility requirement.

A movement disorder or eyesight issues may well be grounds for a reasonable adjustment to allow them to use a dice app. At the Northern Kings GT we made sure that there was a row of more accessible tables for those who advised of accessibility requirements in the registration survey and if someone had a movement disorder or eyesight issues we would make sure to make whatever reasonable adjustments the player needs to have a good time.

We specifically asked about accessibility requirements in our registration form (completed a week or so before the event), and contacted anyone who responded to this question to make sure we made adjustments to suit them.

If someone were to advise of a reason why they either could not use dice or struggled to, and with discussions we agreed that they could use a dice app then sure. Except we would supply the phone (I have my last couple of android phones in a drawer), remove all existing passwords and personal information and install the app ourselves.

You must think there are cheaters at every event!

Some people will think this is all paranoid. The Kings of War community is great! No-one would ever cheat!

Well, they have in the past. At US Masters no less. I have a specific high profile game in mind I once played on livestream where my opponent was, to put it lightly, dodgy several times. I had even been forewarned about them. It was only my confidence in challenging their stretchy tape measure early on that cut that shit out (mostly). I know of a few other credible suspicions of cheating elsewhere.

Look, it happens. It’s a part of life. Wherever there’s competition, there will be people who want to win. There will be people who disagree on sportsmanship (just look at the discussions around takebacks to see how fuzzy it gets) and there will be a very small number of people who will push it further.

I’m in no way saying that cheating happens every day, at all. It’s extremely rare. I can only count a couple of games over my entire KoW career where I had strong suspicions, but in either one there were quick ways of either heading it off by challenging their measurements or, if it came to it, testing dice. It would be difficult for them to hide it if I were to challenge and bring a TO over.

However, when it comes to dice apps, not only is it fairly trivial to modify an app so it’s dodgy, but it’s just as easy to hide.

Again, don’t give a shit about what you do in casual games. My preference is still strongly for physical dice, but I don’t think anyone would really feel the need to do this in casual.

Do not allow dice apps in tournaments, ever.

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